Review: EA Sports UFC (PS4)

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Title: EA Sports UFC
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download
Release Date: June 17, 2014
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Canada
Original MSRP: $59.99
ESRB Rating: T
PEGI: 16
EA Sports UFC is also available on Xbox One.
The PlayStation 4 Disc version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy.

Gameplay:
UFC is a game that never quite lands a knockout punch, though is far too good to find itself laying face-first on the canvas. At times, this is a joy to play, but there are annoyances that continually detract from the fighting experience.

At its core, this is a glorified version of the Fight Night series. Under the extremely powerful UFC license, EA has modified the formula of their boxing simulations by tacking on the other disciplines which make up MMA (Mixed Martial Arts), such as wrestling and karate. Due to the various styles of fighting, the control scheme comprises a vast array of button combos and stick movement. This obviously makes general gameplay a lot tougher (well, a lot more complicated, if you want to master the game fully) than Fight Night.

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Arguably, most players will only focus on a single style of fighting, but I still believe the Vancouver-based studio needed to slightly rethink the controls to make it more accessible. Once you’ve got to grips with punching, blocking and clinching though, the in-ring action is very entertaining. Tactically, UFC is better than its competitors. Every single press of a button can be crucial, with good decision making being much more important than raw ability. Depending on the situation, you could opt for a cagey approach or an all-out brawl; elect to grapple on the mat or strike standing up; attempt to stay in the fight or try to land a quick KO. Each bout is different, which makes victories thoroughly satisfying.

Fights flow superbly well (in regular stand-up brawling, at least) and are often very realistic. The HUD is largely redundant as the game does such a good job in letting you know the condition of both fighters and where the momentum is through subtle visual changes and small vibrations of the DualShock. Damage is believable, mimicking the real thing very convincingly. You could be on the defensive for an entire round, then one well-timed punch to the head can send your opponent to the mat. It doesn’t feel as though there’s some sort of threshold where a fighter will lose after taking a certain amount of cumulative damage. Rather, UFC nails the somewhat unpredictable intangibles that decide the outcome.

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The main portion of the single-player offering in UFC is a traditional career mode. WWE especially (as an organisation famous for excellent promo packages) needs to take note, as EA have done a fantastic job in stitching together fights with videos. UFC’s brand has been implemented to the fullest, with the developer using a combination of highlights, features, promos, and short video messages from real fighters, trainers and Dana White. It works really well in making proceedings interesting, certainly providing a signal of what we can expect from sports games in this new console generation.

Aside from the visibly high production values, the action is as you’d expect. Train, fight, upgrade attributes, accept new fight offer, rinse and repeat. However, the training is notably impressive. It rarely seems a chore, casually enveloping your in-ring experience by not only acting as filler and providing authenticity, but also helping the complex control scheme eventually become muscle memory. In terms of the bigger picture, your fighter predictably moves from an unsigned amateur, to Undercard status, to Main Card fighter, to Title Contender and ultimately, UFC Champion. Overall, whilst very fun in spurts, the career mode can become a little repetitive and thus perhaps doesn’t warrant a full price purchase due to the lack of longevity.

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UFC doesn’t have one major, game-breaking flaw, but does suffer from numerous quirks or frustrations that soon add up. Some aspects are simply nonsensical. For instance, sparring sessions can easily end in the trainer or fighter being floored unconscious. Load times meanwhile can be cripplingly bad, completely taking you out of the mood for a huge hyped-up fight. Other issues lie inside the cage, with some disciplines feeling half-cooked. Clumsy submission implementation seems like an afterthought too. Alongside the inevitable inability to hook you in (I can’t imagine still playing this in a few weeks time), UFC is not only in need of extra polish, but is devoid of the one fresh, possibly risky idea that will turn it into a must-buy.

Visuals:
You’d be hard pushed to find a more visually impressive game on PS4; UFC is stunning. The character models are at times indistinguishable from a preceding cut-scene. Again akin to Fight Night, the aesthetic beauty of UFC is also based around the impact of hits; specifically the blood which gushes out of your opponents face upon a sweet left hook. The added power now though makes it even more realistic, with fighters literally dripping in the evidence of their night’s work.

When looking beyond your fighter, the attention to detail is often impressive. In the gym, you’ll see people on treadmills or hitting the punch bags. At the end of fights, there’ll be Ring Girls and Promoters chatting in the background in a believable looking manner. The only major downside within the octagon is that grappling transitions are canned animations and the camera is sometimes slightly dodgy, whilst the menu system is a little drab. In all though, it’s difficult to complain about the gorgeous 1080p goodness that greets players in this game.

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Audio:
The sounds of the game are average fare for a sports title. The commentary is far behind the likes of NBA 2K, but is nowhere near as annoying as recent WWE titles.

Another one of the strange choices made by the development team is evident here, as in the career mode, your created fighters surname can only be chosen from a stock list. At the time, I presumed this was for commentary purposes, but no, they never say your name. Instead, you’ll constantly hear one of those awful generic nicknames every sports title enforces (such as ‘Bad Intentions’ or ‘Assassin’).

As well as the commentators, UFC’s trainers, announcers and referees are similarly forgettable. On the plus side, the soundtrack is a nice mix of music and the aforementioned appearances of real-life superstars are nice to hear too.

Online/Multiplayer:
Any EA Sports fanatic will be right at home here. The ranked online play is split into seasons, just as in the likes of FIFA. Three points are awarded for each win within a 10 fight season, in which targets will be set for promotion and belts (rather than trophies in the soccer sim). Online play runs surprisingly smoothly, making for fluid fights.

Strangely, there is usually less of a tactical element in comparison to the single-player, so bouts can often boil down to who can land the most punches to the head. However, couch multiplayer is (like any fighting game) the best way to play. Elsewhere, ‘FighterNet’ is EA’s online hub for UFC, which they’ll hope to continue going forward; again, consistent with their other titles.

It’s rather sparse though, with the only real functions as of yet being stat tracking and the ability to watch friends’ highlights.

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Conclusion:
For obvious reasons, this reminds me a lot of Fight Night Round 3. They both arrived near the beginning of a console generation, they both have issues with longevity, but they both set a certain standard for the genre and are very fun. EA Sports has certainly shown great promise for the series’ future, laying a solid foundation that now needs perfecting.

Unless you are a massive fan of MMA or want a game purely for the stand-up elements (e.g. boxing), this is not a must-buy. With another year of development time to create a more complete experience (this inaugural edition feels slightly rushed), the next iteration of UFC will be the one to watch.

Score:
7.0

* All screenshots used in this review were provided by the publisher.

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Written by Raj Mahil

Game collector. Journalism graduate. Batman addict. Movie goer. WWE nut. Sports obsessive. Arsenal fan. Squawka.com Sub-Editor.

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